Bermuda rig

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J-Class sail plan with Bermuda Rig c. 1930 J Class sail plan.svg
J-Class sail plan with Bermuda Rig c. 1930

A Bermuda rig, Bermudian rig, or Marconi rig is a configuration of mast and rigging for a type of sailboat and is the typical configuration for most modern sailboats. This configuration was developed in Bermuda in the 17th century; the term Marconi, a reference to the inventor of the radio, Guglielmo Marconi, became associated with this configuration in the early 20th century because the wires that stabilize the mast of a Bermuda rig reminded observers of the wires on early radio masts. [1]



17th-century woodcut of a Bermudian vessel with early Bermuda rig (before the addition of a boom) Bermuda rig - 17th Century woodcut.jpg
17th-century woodcut of a Bermudian vessel with early Bermuda rig (before the addition of a boom)

The rig consists of a triangular sail set aft of the mast with its mainsail raised to the top of the mast; its luff runs down the mast and is normally attached to it for its entire length; its tack is attached at the base of the mast; its foot (in modern versions of the rig) controlled by a boom; and its clew attached to the aft end of the boom, which is controlled by its sheet. [2]

Originally developed for smaller Bermudian vessels, and ultimately adapted to the larger, ocean-going Bermuda sloop, the Bermuda sail is set as the mainsail on the main mast. The Bermuda rigging has largely replaced the older gaff rigged fore-and-aft sails, except notably on schooners. The traditional design as developed in Bermuda features very tall, raked masts, a long bowsprit, and may or may not have a boom. In some configurations such as the Bermuda Fitted Dinghy vast areas of sail are achieved with this rig. Elsewhere, however, the design has omitted the bowsprit, and has otherwise become less extreme. [3]

A Bermuda rigged sloop with a single jib is known as a Bermuda sloop, a Marconi sloop, or a Marconi rig. A Bermuda sloop may also be a more specific type of vessel such as a small sailing ships traditional in Bermuda which may or may not be Bermuda rigged. [4]

The foot of a Bermuda sail may be attached to the boom along its length, or in some modern rigs the sail is attached to the boom only at its ends. This modern variation of a Bermuda mainsail is known as a loose-footed main. In some early Bermudian vessels, the mainsails were attached only to the mast and deck, lacking booms. This is the case on two of the three masts of the newly built Spirit of Bermuda , a replica of an 1830s British Royal Navy sloop-of-war. Additional sails were also often mounted on traditional Bermudian craft, when running down wind, which included a spinnaker, with a spinnaker boom, and additional jibs. [5]

The main controls on a Bermuda sail are: [6] [7]


1885 Map of Bermuda and its reefs by Anna Brassey, illustrating the perils of tacking in Bermuda's waters. 1885 Map of Bermuda and its reefs by Anna Brassey.jpg
1885 Map of Bermuda and its reefs by Anna Brassey, illustrating the perils of tacking in Bermuda's waters.

The development of the rig is thought to have begun with fore-and-aft rigged boats built by a Dutch-born Bermudian in the 17th century. The Dutch were influenced by Moorish lateen rigs introduced during Spain's rule of their country. The Dutch eventually modified the design by omitting the masts, with the yard arms of the lateens being stepped in thwarts. By this process, the yards became raked masts. Lateen sails mounted this way were known as leg-of-mutton sails in English. The Dutch called a vessel rigged in this manner a bezaanjacht (nl). A bezaan jacht is visible in a painting of King Charles II arriving in Rotterdam in 1660. After sailing on such a vessel, Charles was so impressed that his eventual successor, the Prince of Orange presented him with a copy of his own, which Charles named Bezaan. [9] The rig had been introduced to Bermuda some decades before this. Captain John Smith reported that Captain Nathaniel Butler, who was the governor of Bermuda from 1619 to 1622, employed the Dutch boat builder, Jacob Jacobsen, [10] one of the crew of a Dutch frigate which had been wrecked on Bermuda, who quickly established a leading position among Bermuda's boat makers, reportedly building and selling more than a hundred boats within the space of three years (to the resentment of many of his competitors, who were forced to emulate his designs). [11] [12] A poem published by John H. Hardie in 1671 described Bermuda's boats such: With tripple corner'd Sayls they always float, About the Islands, in the world there are, None in all points that may with them compare. [13]

Ships with somewhat similar rigs were in fact recorded in Holland during the 17th century. These early Bermuda rigged boats evidently lacked jibs or booms, and the masts appear not to have been as robust as they were to become (a boat rigged with a Bermuda or gaff mainsail and no jib would today be known as a catboat). In 1675, Samuel Fortrey, of Kew, wrote to the naval administrator and Member of Parliament, Samuel Pepys, a treatise entitled Of Navarchi, suggesting the improvement of the Bermoodn rig with the addition of a boom, but evidently nothing came of this. Bermudian builders did introduce these innovations themselves, though when they first appeared has been lost to record. [2] [14]

By the 19th century, the design of Bermudian vessels had largely dispensed with square topsails and gaff rig, replacing them with triangular main sails and jibs. The Bermuda rig had traditionally been used on vessels with two or more masts, with the gaff rig favoured for single-masted vessels. The reason for this was the increased height necessary for a single mast, which led to too much canvas. The solid wooden masts at that height were also too heavy, and not sufficiently strong. This changed when the boats began to be raced in the early 19th century. H. G. Hunt, a naval officer (and possibly the Henry G. Hunt who was the Acting Governor of Bermuda in 1835) concluded in the 1820s that a single-masted sloop would be superior to the schooner he had been racing and was proved correct when the yacht he had commissioned won a secret race against a schooner the night before a public race, and the public race itself the following day. Single-masted sloops quickly became the norm in Bermudian racing, with the introduction of hollow masts and other refinements. [2]

The colony's lightweight Bermuda cedar vessels were widely prized for their agility and speed, especially upwind. The high, raked masts and long bowsprits and booms favoured in Bermuda allowed its vessels of all sizes to carry vast areas of sail when running down-wind with spinnakers and multiple jibs, allowing great speeds to be reached. Bermudian work boats, mostly small sloops, were ubiquitous on the archipelago's waters in the 19th century, moving freight, people, and everything else about. The rig was eventually adopted almost universally on small sailing craft in the 20th century, although as seen on most modern vessels it is very much less extreme than on traditional Bermudian designs, with lower, vertical masts, shorter booms, omitted bowsprits, and much less area of canvas. [2]

The term Marconi rig was first applied to the tall Bermuda rig used on larger racing yachts, such as the J class used since 1914 for the America's Cup international yacht races, as - with the many supporting cables required - it reminded observers of Guglielmo Marconi's mast-like wireless antennas (Marconi's first demonstrations in the United States took place in the autumn of 1899, with the reporting of the America's Cup at New York). Although sometimes treated as interchangeable with Bermuda rig generally, some purists insist that Marconi rig refers only to the very tall Bermuda rig used on yachts like the J-class. [2]

See also


Related Research Articles

Sloop Sail boat with a single mast and a fore-and-aft rig

A sloop is a sailboat with a single mast typically having only one headsail in front of the mast and one mainsail aft of (behind) the mast. Such an arrangement is called a fore-and-aft rig, and can be rigged as a Bermuda rig with triangular sails fore and aft, or as a gaff-rig with triangular foresail(s) and a gaff rigged mainsail. Sailboats can be classified according to type of rig, and so a sailboat may be a sloop, catboat, cutter, ketch, yawl, or schooner. A sloop usually has only one headsail, although an exception is the Friendship sloop, which is usually gaff-rigged with a bowsprit and multiple headsails. If the vessel has two or more headsails, the term cutter may be used, especially if the mast is stepped further towards the back of the boat.

Sailboat Boat propelled partly or entirely by sails

A sailboat or sailing boat is a boat propelled partly or entirely by sails and is smaller than a sailing ship. Distinctions in what constitutes a sailing boat and ship vary by region and maritime culture.

Sail plan Diagram of the masts, spars, rigging, and sails of a sailing vessel

A sail plan is a description of the specific ways that a sailing craft is rigged. Also, the term “sail plan” is a graphic depiction of the arrangement of the sails for a given sailing craft.

Brigantine Two-masted sailing vessel

A brigantine is a two-masted sailing vessel with a fully square-rigged foremast and at least two sails on the main mast: a square topsail and a gaff sail mainsail. The main mast is the second and taller of the two masts.

A jib is a triangular sail that sets ahead of the foremast of a sailing vessel. Its tack is fixed to the bowsprit, to the bows, or to the deck between the bowsprit and the foremost mast. Jibs and spinnakers are the two main types of headsails on a modern boat.

Bermuda sloop

The Bermuda sloop is an historical type of fore-and-aft rigged single-masted sailing vessel developed on the islands of Bermuda in the 17th century. Such vessels originally had gaff rigs with quadrilateral sails, but evolved to use the Bermuda rig with triangular sails. Although the Bermuda sloop is often described as a development of the narrower-beamed Jamaica sloop, which dates from the 1670s, the high, raked masts and triangular sails of the Bermuda rig are rooted in a tradition of Bermudian boat design dating from the earliest decades of the 17th century. It is distinguished from other vessels with the triangular Bermuda rig, which may have multiple masts or may not have evolved in hull form from the traditional designs.

Jibe Basic sailing maneuver, where ship turns its stern through the wind

A jibe (US) or gybe (Britain) is a sailing maneuver whereby a sailing vessel reaching downwind turns its stern through the wind, which then exerts its force from the opposite side of the vessel. For square-rigged ships, this maneuver is called wearing ship.


A mainsail is a sail rigged on the main mast of a sailing vessel.

Cutter (boat) Type of boat

A cutter is a sailing vessel which is distinguished from a sloop by having more than one foresails, and the main mast stepped slightly farther back. Cutters are most commonly private yachts but the term may also be used for some rowing or power boats, for example, the United States Coast Guard Cutter.

Gaff rig

Gaff rig is a sailing rig in which the sail is four-cornered, fore-and-aft rigged, controlled at its peak and, usually, its entire head by a spar (pole) called the gaff. Because of the size and shape of the sail, a gaff rig will have running backstays rather than permanent backstays.

Running rigging type of rigging for sailing

Running rigging is the rigging of a sailing vessel that is used for raising, lowering, shaping and controlling the sails on a sailing vessel—as opposed to the standing rigging, which supports the mast and bowsprit. Running rigging varies between vessels that are rigged fore and aft and those that are square-rigged.

Square rig Generic type of sail and rigging arrangement

Square rig is a generic type of sail and rigging arrangement in which the primary driving sails are carried on horizontal spars which are perpendicular, or square, to the keel of the vessel and to the masts. These spars are called yards and their tips, beyond the last stay, are called the yardarms. A ship mainly rigged so is called a square-rigger.

Sail components Features that define a (ship) sails shape and function

Sail components include the features that define a sail's shape and function, plus its constituent parts from which it is manufactured. A sail may be classified in a variety of ways, including by its orientation to the vessel and its shape,. Sails are typically constructed out of flexible material that is shaped by various means, while in use, to offer an appropriate airfoil, according to the strength and apparent direction of the wind. A variety of features and fittings allow the sail to be attached to lines and spars.

Full-rigged ship Sailing vessel with three or more square-rigged masts

A full-rigged ship or fully rigged ship is a sailing vessel's sail plan with three or more masts, all of them square-rigged. A full-rigged ship is said to have a ship rig or be ship-rigged. Such vessels also have each mast stepped in three segments: lower mast, top mast, and topgallant mast. Other large, multi-masted sailing vessels may be regarded as ships while lacking one of the elements of a full-rigged ship, e.g. having one or more masts support only a fore-and-aft sail or having a mast that only has two segments.


The spritsail is a four-sided, fore-and-aft sail that is supported at its highest points by the mast and a diagonally running spar known as the sprit. The foot of the sail can be stretched by a boom or held loose-footed just by its sheets. A spritsail has four corners: the throat, peak, clew, and tack. The Spritsail can also be used to describe a rig that uses a spritsail.

Fractional rig

A fractional rig on a sailing vessel consists of a foresail, such as a jib or genoa sail, that does not reach all the way to the top of the mast.

Junk rig

The junk rig, also known as the Chinese lugsail or sampan rig, is a type of sail rig in which rigid members, called battens, span the full width of the sail and extend the sail forward of the mast.

Bermuda Fitted Dinghy

The Bermuda Fitted Dinghy is a type of racing-dedicated sail boat used for competitions between the yacht clubs of Bermuda. Although the class has only existed for about 130 years, the boats are a continuance of a tradition of boat and ship design in Bermuda that stretches back to the earliest decades of the 17th century.

Sail Fabric or other surface supported by a mast to allow wind propulsion

A sail is a tensile structure—made from fabric or other membrane materials—that uses wind power to propel sailing craft, including sailing ships, sailboats, windsurfers, ice boats, and even sail-powered land vehicles. Sails may be made from a combination of woven materials—including canvas or polyester cloth, laminated membranes or bonded filaments—usually in a three- or four-sided shape.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to sailing:


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  14. We invented the international 'modern' Rig, by Dr. Edward C. Harris , MBE, Executive Director of the Bermuda Maritime Museum . The Royal Gazette , Hamilton, Bermuda

Further reading